Employee Rights: Whistleblower, Discrimination, and Retaliatory Discharge Actions Against Employers

How do I file a whistleblower, discrimination, or retaliation suit against my employer in Missouri?

Generally: An employee may file a lawsuit in an appropriate court. The lawsuit must be filed within 5 years of the retaliatory action, unless otherwise specified by statute. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact Michelle Funkenbusch immediately because your time to file may be running out.

Discrimination: An employee may file a signed, written complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR).  The MCHR investigates complaints of discrimination in housing, employment, and places of public accommodations because of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability, age (in employment only), and familial status (in housing only).

Complaints under the Missouri Human Rights Act must be filed with the MCHR within 180 days of the alleged discrimination.  Federal law allows 300 days for filing employment discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and 365 days for housing discrimination complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development so if you have missed the Missouri deadline file a complaint with the federal government.

In Missouri, the MCHR will investigate and attempt to correct the situation for you. If MCHR is unable to correct the situation within 180 days, the employee may request a “right-to-sue” letter. Upon receipt of this letter, the employee then has 90 days to file a lawsuit in an appropriate court.  This is a very short deadline so you want to contact a discrimination lawyer, like Michelle Funkenbusch, as soon as the problem occurs at your employment.

Click here for more information from the Missouri Commission for Human Rights on discrimination or click here to review the process once a complaint is filed. Already filed a complaint? You can also request a Right to Sue letter to file suit in state court.

What legal protection does Missouri provide private sector employees in regard to whistleblowing and retaliation?

The general rule is that most employees may be fired at any time-for any reason or for no reason at all-under what is known as the at-will employee doctrine.   However, in the past 50 years, many exceptions to the general rule have emerged. Exceptions to this general rule can come from two sources: (1) courts, which modify and make “common law protections” or (2) the legislature, which enacts “statutory protections.” Statutory protections tend to be specific, addressing certain subject areas (such as discrimination, workers’ compensation, etc.). Yet, legislators often lack the foresight to address every possible situation of retaliation. Common law protections, on the other hand, tend to “fill the gaps” where no statute exists for a given situation.

Common Law Protections

Missouri recognizes a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. An employer may not fire an employee for a reason that is contrary to the public policy of Missouri. An employee has a cause of action-in other words, the employee may sue-for wrongful discharge when the motivation for the discharge violates public policy.

To determine what constitutes public policy, Missouri courts will look to statutes, constitutional provisions, regulations, judicial decisions, practices of government officials, and (in some instances) professional codes of ethics to determine if a given practice has been endorsed (e.g. the right to collect workers’ compensation benefits) or prohibited (e.g. criminal laws prohibiting perjury). So, for example, because a Missouri statute endorses an employee’s right to collect workers’ compensation benefits, an employer who retaliates against an employee for invoking that right would be contravening public policy. On the other side of the same coin, because criminal statutes prohibit perjury, an employer who coerces an employee to commit perjury by threats of reprisal is also contravening Missouri’s public policy. In both situations, employees are protected from retaliatory discharge.

As one Missouri court has defined the term, “Public policy is that principle of law which holds that no one can lawfully do that which tends to be injurious to the public or against the public good.” Whistleblowers have received protection from retaliation under the public policy exception.

Statutory Protections

In addition, the Missouri General Assembly has adopted narrow statutory protections for certain activities. Employees who engage in protected activities (usually filing a complaint or testifying) under laws in the following subject areas are protected from retaliation: discrimination and workers’ compensation.

Other Protections

In addition to the above state protections, federal law provides workers with additional protections. Furthermore, a private contract or collective bargaining agreement may also protect employees from certain forms of retaliation.

What activities does state law protect, and to whom does this protection apply?

Common Law Protections

An employee may not be discharged for a reason that is contrary to public policy. Specifically, Missouri courts have protected the following activities:

  • Reporting wrongdoing, or violations of law or public policy by the employer or fellow employees to supervisors or third parties
  • Refusing to perform an illegal act or an act contrary to a strong mandate of public policy
  • Acting in a manner that public policy would encourage, such as performing jury duty
  • Filing a workers’ compensation claim
  • Reporting improper patient care to the appropriate authority

Statutory Protections

Discrimination: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for opposing a discriminatory employment practice. Nor may an employee be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for filing a complaint, testifying, assisting, or participating in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing concerning Missouri’s anti-discrimination laws. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.070(2).

Workers’ Compensation: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.780.

If you believe your employer has wrongfully discriminated against or fired you, please contact Michelle M. Funkenbusch immediately to protect your rights, 314-799-6602 or 314-338-3500.